The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) was established as an independent think-tank in 2004 to put social justice at the heart of British politics and make policy recommendations to tackle the root causes of poverty.
As Leader of the Opposition and then Secretary of State for Work & Pensions I spent time in many of the UK’s most disadvantaged communities, with people whose lives were blighted by social breakdown and the poverty it created. I frequently encountered levels of social breakdown which appalled me. In one of the world’s largest economies, too many people lived in dysfunctional homes, trapped on benefits. Too many children were leaving school with no qualifications or skills to enable them to work and prosper. Too many communities were blighted by alcohol and drug addiction, debt and criminality, many of them with stunningly low levels of life expectancy.
Many people I met had given up on politicians because they felt politicians had given up on them. The political process had become irrelevant in their lives; Westminster was failing to play its part in getting to grips with Britain’s deepest social problems. The CSJ was founded to understand the lives of people living in poverty and develop policies to help these people.
We argue that poverty is about much more than the simple absence of money. Rather than finding short term solutions, we are committed to tackling poverty’s root causes and recommending life changing solutions.
Our pragmatic policy work is informed by our relationship with a network of small and effective community-based charities. The CSJ has fused policy-making expertise with poverty-fighting experience. From its earliest days, the unique voice of the voluntary sector – whose organisations are often best placed to prevent social breakdown and turn lives around has driven our policy making work.
In 2007 the Centre for Social Justice was commissioned by the then Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron MP to develop a new poverty fighting agenda for the Conservative Party which resulted in our first Breakthrough Britain report. This ground breaking report identified five pathways to poverty experienced by people living in our poorest communities. These five pathways, family breakdown, worklessness, serious personal debt, addiction and educational underachievement are all interconnected and characterised the lives of many of those experiencing the worst poverty in the UK. The report provided practical policy solutions to meet social needs such as the creation of Pioneer Schools (which became Free Schools) as well as the expansion of Credit Unions to help tackle serious personal debt.
The CSJ produced the second Breakthrough Britain report in 2015 which returned to the themes of the first report and provided the Government with a renewed road map for addressing poverty around the five pathways. Many of the policy recommendations contained within this report have been adopted by the Government and continue to inform the debate on UK poverty. The majority of the CSJ’s work is organised around these five pathways to poverty, which remain as relevant today as they were in 2005.
Our 2008 report, Early Intervention: Good Parents. Great Kids. Better Citizens, provided evidence of how early intervention can break intergenerational cycles of under-achievement and multiple deprivation. It emphasised the importance of addressing cultural and material factors of a child’s home life by providing evidence that, by 11 years of age, it is often too late to make a substantial difference, whereas intervention in early childhood is most effective. The report, co-authored by Labour MP Graham Allen, attracted cross-party consensus and was a vital precursor to the two subsequent Early Intervention Reports commissioned by the Coalition Government.
In 2009 the CSJ report, Dynamic Benefits, first made the case for a ‘universal’ benefit to create a ‘simpler, more cost-effective system that provides greater rewards for work’. This was the foundation for the Government’s Universal Credit policy that was introduced as part of the Government’s Welfare Reform Act 2012 and is currently being rolled-out across Britain. The CSJ has pioneered the concept of work as the most effective route out of poverty. In the early part of the century it was not uncommon for children to grow up in households where no one had worked for generations. CSJ policy recommendations have led to a transformation in the way Government approaches poverty, refocusing efforts to help people into work through the Work Programme, the Universal Credit and support to ensure work always pays more than living a life on welfare and fewer children living in workless households.
The CSJ has constantly argued for an approach to tackling poverty that goes beyond simply a lack of money our 2012 paper, Rethinking Child Poverty called for reform to the way child poverty is measured. It called for the Government to take into consideration more representative indicators beyond simply a relative measure of household income such as educational attainment and worklessness. Many of these proposals shifted the debate on poverty beyond a simple static measurement towards one which reflects the lives of those experiencing the worst deprivation.
Our 2013 report, It Happens Here, put the spot light on the horrific reality of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK. As a direct result of this report, the government passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015, one of the first pieces of legislation in the world to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century.
The CSJ has always taken a special interest in promoting policies to support children growing up in care, who suffer some of the worst social outcomes of any group. From our 2008 report, Couldn’t Care Less, Survival of the Fittest in 2014 to Finding Their Feet published in 2015 the CSJ has made a series of policy recommendations that have helped to drive Government reforms in this area, transforming the life chances of some of our most disadvantaged young people.
We will continue to work with the Government – and indeed politicians from all major parties – to push forward ideas and policies that will promote social justice. Our past successes serve as a reminder of what can be achieved, as well as point us towards what remains to be done.